As soon as snow is not falling on a weekend, you will find us heading up the mountain to do some snowshoeing. I look for a sunny day with a temperature anywhere from 45 to 60 degrees. If it gets too warm (over 65 degrees), the snow gets slushy and it is harder to walk. Too cold, and it just is not fun. Your dog will not care whatever the conditions, so as long as the roads are clear consider a snowshoe outing in March.
A great place to start snowshoeing is at Loon Lake Campground. You can call the Pacific Ranger Station on a Friday at 530-647-5415 to check on road conditions. From Highway 50 going east, turn left onto Ice House Road immediately after crossing the bridge over the South Fork American River (about 22 miles east of Placerville). Follow Ice House Road for 24.3 miles to a right turn to Loon Lake. Proceed 4.5 miles to the road into Loon Lake Campground. In March, the campground gate is closed and you will have to park outside of the campground entrance.
There are five routes in this area, with the easiest being the 1.25-mile one to Loon Lake Chalet. Walk through the service gate and go 0.2 miles down the road to find the start of the trail on your left. Look for a blue diamond marker in a tree ahead of you. Throughout the trail, you will find blue diamonds on trees as well as ribbons on branches to help mark your way. Always look ahead to the next marker before going forward. If you look backwards, you will see the diamonds on the other side of the tree for your return trip (you also have your own tracks to follow on your return).
After 0.5 mile, the trail crosses an asphalt service road. Look ahead in your original direction, across the road, and spot your next blue diamond marker. In another 0.1 mile, you will reach a pond and depending on the amount of water, you may need to divert around it before getting to your next marker. At 0.75 mile, you will reach a gravel service road to a power plant. The main road is immediately to your left.
Walk up to the main road and go right 0.15 mile to the Chalet. You will see the sign for the Loon Lake Chalet on your left. The Chalet provides a great picnic spot with a large deck and benches and tables (and toilet facilities). Private parties can rent the Chalet, but you should still be able to enjoy the outdoor deck. Looking out from the deck, you can see two more snowshoe routes – Chipmunk Bluff and Berts Lake. The trail is 1.5 miles to Chipmunk Bluff and 0.9 miles to Berts Lake, but both have more elevation gain than the Chalet route, making for a greater difficulty.
Follow your tracks from the Chalet to return to your car. If you want to continue your adventure, you can snowshoe down the campground road to reach frozen Loon Lake and some picnic tables. Along this part of the road, you will pass two other snowshoe trails on your right – Glissade Trail and Van Vleck Trail. The Glissade Trail is a 2.0-mile loop taking you uphill to some nice views. The Van Vleck Trail starts near the Equestrian Campground and takes you 4.5 miles to the Van Vleck Bunkhouse. You can call the Pacific Ranger Station or visit www.recreation.gove
for information on renting either the Chalet or the Bunkhouse.